Herbert spencers essay + the purpose of education

In his higher education Herbert Spencer was largely self-taught. He declined an offer from his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, to send him to the University of Cambridge. Herbert Spencer worked briefly as a schoolteacher and was later employed as a railway engineer —41 and as a writer and subeditor copy editor for The Economist — He resigned his position with The Economist after receiving an inheritance from his uncle.

He is also remembered for introducing the term survival of the fittest. Spencer declined an offer from his uncle, the Reverend Thomas Spencer, to send him to Cambridge , and in consequence his higher education was largely the result of his own reading, which was chiefly in the natural sciences. He was, for a few months, a schoolteacher and from to a railway civil engineer. In he contributed some letters republished later as a pamphlet, The Proper Sphere of Government [] to The Nonconformist, in which he argued that it is the business of governments to uphold natural rights and that they do more harm than good when they go beyond that.

After some association with progressive journalism through such papers as The Zoist devoted to mesmerism, or hypnosis , and phrenology and The Pilot the organ of the Complete Suffrage Union , Spencer became in a subeditor of The Economist.


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In he published Social Statics , which contained in embryo most of his later views, including his argument in favour of an extreme form of economic and social laissez-faire. In Spencer, having received a legacy from his uncle, resigned his position with The Economist. Spencer published the first part of The Principles of Psychology in He was a descendent of a family of religious nonconformists with strong individualist traits and utilitarian views based on those of social reformer Jeremy Bentham.

His education was geared to math and science and less to Latin and Greek. Spencer did not progress to university but in joined the London and Birmingham Railway as an engineer.

He was not seen as a cultivated gentleman in terms the existing society. He became interested in radical issues in the s and started writing for the Non-Conformist. He came to view government as a threat to freedom and the individual. Although he returned to the railroad for temporary employment, he secured an editorial job with the London Economist in , which secured a steady income.

What emerged from this conviction in a simplified form was a notion of the survival of the fittest, a phrase Darwin never used. Society--and social institutions such as the economy--can, he believed, function without external control, just as the digestive system or a lower organism does though, in arguing this, Spencer failed to see the fundamental differences between 'higher' and 'lower' levels of social organization.

For Spencer, all natural and social development reflected 'the universality of law'. Beginning with the 'laws of life', the conditions of social existence, and the recognition of life as a fundamental value, moral science can deduce what kinds of laws promote life and produce happiness.


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Spencer's ethics and political philosophy, then, depends on a theory of 'natural law,' and it is because of this that, he maintained, evolutionary theory could provide a basis for a comprehensive political and even philosophical theory. Given the variations in temperament and character among individuals, Spencer recognized that there were differences in what happiness specifically consists in Social Statics [], p. In general, however, 'happiness' is the surplus of pleasure over pain, and 'the good' is what contributes to the life and development of the organism, or--what is much the same--what provides this surplus of pleasure over pain.

Happiness, therefore, reflects the complete adaptation of an individual organism to its environment--or, in other words, 'happiness' is that which an individual human being naturally seeks. For human beings to flourish and develop, Spencer held that there must be as few artificial restrictions as possible, and it is primarily freedom that he, contra Bentham, saw as promoting human happiness. While progress was an inevitable characteristic of evolution, it was something to be achieved only through the free exercise of human faculties see Social Statics.

Society, however, is by definition, for Spencer an aggregate of individuals, and change in society could take place only once the individual members of that society had changed and developed The Study of Sociology , pp. Individuals are, therefore, 'primary,' individual development was 'egoistic,' and associations with others largely instrumental and contractual. Still, Spencer thought that human beings exhibited a natural sympathy and concern for one another; there is a common character and there are common interests among human beings that they eventually come to recognize as necessary not only for general, but for individual development.

This reflects, to an extent, Spencer's organicism. Nevertheless, Spencer held that 'altruism' and compassion beyond the family unit were sentiments that came to exist only recently in human beings. Spencer maintained that there was a natural mechanism--an 'innate moral sense'--in human beings by which they come to arrive at certain moral intuitions and from which laws of conduct might be deduced The Principles of Ethics , I [], p.

1. First Principles

Thus one might say that Spencer held a kind of 'moral sense theory' Social Statics , pp. Later in his life, Spencer described these 'principles' of moral sense and of sympathy as the 'accumulated effects of instinctual or inherited experiences. But while Spencer insisted that freedom was the power to do what one desired, he also held that what one desired and willed was wholly determined by "an infinitude of previous experiences" The Principles of Psychology , pp.

Spencer saw this analysis of ethics as culminating in an 'Absolute Ethics,' the standard for which was the production of pure pleasure--and he held that the application of this standard would produce, so far as possible, the greatest amount of pleasure over pain in the long run.

Spencer's views here were rejected by Mill and Hartley. Their principal objection was that Spencer's account of natural 'desires' was inadequate because it failed to provide any reason why one ought to have the feelings or preferences one did. There is, however, more to Spencer's ethics than this.

As individuals become increasingly aware of their individuality, they also become aware of the individuality of others and, thereby, of the law of equal freedom. This 'first principle' is that 'Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man' Social Statics, p.

One's 'moral sense,' then, led to the recognition of the existence of individual rights, and one can identify strains of a rights-based ethic in Spencer's writings. Spencer's views clearly reflect a fundamentally 'egoist' ethic, but he held that rational egoists would, in the pursuit of their own self interest, not conflict with one another. Still, to care for someone who has no direct relation to oneself--such as supporting the un- and under employed--is, therefore, not only not in one's self interest, but encourages laziness and works against evolution.

In this sense, at least, social inequity was explained, if not justified, by evolutionary principles. Despite his egoism and individualism, Spencer held that life in community was important. Because the relation of parts to one another was one of mutual dependency, and because of the priority of the individual 'part' to the collective, society could not do or be anything other than the sum of its units. This view is evident, not only in his first significant major contribution to political philosophy, Social Statics , but in his later essays--some of which appear in later editions of The Man versus the State.

As noted earlier, Spencer held an 'organic' view of society, Nevertheless, as also noted above, he argued that the natural growth of an organism required 'liberty'--which enabled him philosophically to justify individualism and to defend the existence of individual human rights.

Herbert Spencer Quotations on Education

Because of his commitment to the 'law of equal freedom' and his view that law and the state would of necessity interfere with it, he insisted on an extensive policy of laissez faire. For Spencer, 'liberty' "is to be measured, not by the nature of the government machinery he lives under [ Spencer followed earlier liberalism, then, in maintaining that law is a restriction of liberty and that the restriction of liberty, in itself, is evil and justified only where it is necessary to the preservation of liberty. The only function of government was to be the policing and protection of individual rights.

Spencer maintained that education, religion, the economy, and care for the sick or indigent were not to be undertaken by the state. Law and public authority have as their general purpose, therefore, the administration of justice equated with freedom and the protection of rights. These issues became the focus of Spencer's later work in political philosophy and, particularly, in The Man versus the State. Here, Spencer contrasts early, classical liberalism with the liberalism of the 19th century, arguing that it was the latter, and not the former, that was a "new Toryism"--the enemy of individual progress and liberty.

It is here as well that Spencer develops an argument for the claim that individuals have rights, based on a 'law of life'.

Interestingly, Spencer acknowledges that rights are not inherently moral, but become so only by one's recognition that for them to be binding on others the rights of others must be binding on oneself--this is, in other words, a consequence of the 'law of equal freedom. These rights included rights to life, liberty, property, free speech, equal rights of women, universal suffrage, and the right 'to ignore the state'--though Spencer reversed himself on some of these rights in his later writings.

Thus, the industrious--those of character, but with no commitment to existing structures except those which promoted such industry and, therefore, not religion or patriotic institutions --would thrive.

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Herbert Spencer Essay

Nevertheless, all industrious individuals, Spencer believed, would end up being in fundamental agreement. Not surprisingly, then, Spencer maintained that the arguments of the early utilitarians on the justification of law and authority and on the origin of rights were fallacious.

He also rejected utilitarianism and its model of distributive justice because he held that it rested on an egalitarianism that ignored desert and, more fundamentally, biological need and efficiency. Spencer further maintained that the utilitarian account of the law and the state was also inconsistentthat it tacitly assumed the existence of claims or rights that have both moral and legal weight independently of the positive law.

And, finally, Spencer argues as well against parliamentary, representative government, seeing it as exhibiting a virtual "divine right"i. When parliaments attempt to do more than protect the rights of their citizens by, for example, 'imposing' a conception of the good--be it only on a minority--Spencer suggested that they are no different from tyrannies. Spencer has been frequently accused of inconsistency; one finds variations in his conclusions concerning land nationalization and reform, the rights of children and the extension of suffrage to women, and the role of government.

Moreover, in recent studies of Spencer's theory of social justice, there is some debate whether justice is based primarily on desert or on entitlement, whether the 'law of equal freedom' is a moral imperative or a descriptive natural law, and whether the law of equal freedom is grounded on rights, utility, or, ultimately, on 'moral sense'. Nevertheless, Spencer's work has frequently been seen as a model for later 'libertarian' thinkers, such as Robert Nozick, and he continues to be read--and is often invoked--by 'libertarians' on issues concerning the function of government and the fundamental character of individual rights.

William Sweet Email: wsweet stfx. Francis Xavier University Canada.

Spencer, Herbert | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Herbert Spencer — British philosopher and sociologist, Herbert Spencer was a major figure in the intellectual life of the Victorian era. Life Spencer was born in Derby, England on 27 April , the eldest of nine children, but the only one to survive infancy.

Method Spencer's method is, broadly speaking, scientific and empirical, and it was influenced significantly by the positivism of Auguste Comte. Human Nature In the first volume of A System of Synthetic Philosophy , entitled First Principles , Spencer argued that all phenomena could be explained in terms of a lengthy process of evolution in things.